Most businesses have a set of core values. Somewhere – buried in a strategy document at the bottom of your list of files when you sort by “last updated” – is a set of words that sound good and sound like to sort of things you ought to be saying you do and that will impress potential funders or award panels.

That’s not what values are supposed to be.

Think about your own personal values – what do they mean to you? The points you absolutely won’t compromise on. The principles that guide you in your decision-making. The joy you take in life and the things that really, really matter to you. Something precious and worthwhile and meaningful.

Saying you’re a “customer-focused” organisation because you think your customers will like the sound of that is none of those things.

Why organisational values matter

Here come the stats. 63% of consumers prefer to purchase from brands with a purpose – and what’s more, 47% of them will ditch you in favour of a competitor if you don’t demonstrate a sense of purpose. Not only that, but consumers are watching closely whether what you do matches up to what you say. Only 33% believe brands are actually acting on their values, or communicating honestly about them.

If you are trying to please all the people all of the time, you really will please no one. So many brands are afraid to speak out on big issues in case they upset someone, but all that happens is they fade into the background and no one hears them at all. On the other side of the coin, 67% of consumers buy from a brand for the first time because of their position on a controversial topic – so picking the side you believe in and standing up for it really is worthwhile, and not just because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s not just about the face you put on to the outside world, either. How you communicate, prioritise and demonstrate your values internally has a huge impact on morale and staff retention. 73% of purpose-orientated people are satisfied in their jobs, compared to 64% of those without a clear purpose. Happy staff are more productive, which makes you more money. They also stay with you longer, keeping all that knowledge and experience that lives in their head within the business, and saving you a pretty penny in recruitment and training.

So, engaged customers, motivated staff, and a business with a confident direction – what’s the end result? This: 58% of companies with a clear sense of purpose experienced growth of +10%, compared to just 42% of companies without, and brands with purpose grow twice as fast as competitors.

Making it real

So we’re agreed that values are important, right? If not, get in touch because I’ve got a whole load more stats I can bombard you with! For those who are with me, let’s move on to how we make those values count.

As we saw above, customers are watching closely whether your values are genuine beliefs that you act on or just empty marketing jargon. They’re right to be sceptical – 60% of brands launching purpose-based initiatives are failing to measure any actual impact on society, which rather calls into question their commitment to the cause. Many consumers now just feel that saying you have a “purpose” is a standard advertising gimmick and not in line with what the brand actually does.

For those brands who do care about their impact, and about connecting with consumers and motivating their staff, as well as about building a business they feel good about, here’s a beginner’s guide to making your values a reality.

Why are you here?

Think about why you started your business. What problem are you trying to solve? That’s the impact you’re trying to have in the world, that’s your reason for being. Who are your customers? What matters to them and how are you helping make their lives better? What are your USPs? What do you do differently to everyone else, and what do you do better? All of these questions should be the basis for your values – not popular buzzwords. Get back to basics and think about what is really integral to your business’ identity.

Keep it simple

I’ve run about a million workshops with brands where we look at their values and in the first round of brainstorming we always end up with a list of at least 10 words that are apparently integral to the business. When I tell them they have to narrow it down to two, they go a bit green. “We couldn’t possibly!” they cry. But think about it, if you had to live every day of your life governed by 10 different unbreakable principles, that would get a bit overwhelming, wouldn’t it? It would be hard to do anything at all because you’d be paralysed by all the different expectations and requirements. Values should push you forward not hold you back. So feel free to chuck 10 or 20 words down in your initial brainstorming, but then narrow it down to the two (I will allow you a maximum of three) that genuinely speak to you about the nature and purpose of your business and that get you excited. Then commit to following these principles in all things and at all times.

Shout it loud

Once you’ve identified what really matters to your business, tell the world about it. It should underpin all your communications, your marketing, your events, and feel free to write it up in the wall in massive graphics. Your shareholders, your staff, your customers and your Aunt Mildred all need to know that these are your values, these are the reasons you and your team go to work every day and this is the impact you’re having on the world, and you’re bloody proud of it.

Do something

You know what your values are now, and, if you’ve done this properly, you know who the people are that your values are meant to serve. So look at the community you’re supposed to be helping and figure out how you can really help them. It doesn’t have to be a big splashy campaign that’s saving actual lives – if that’s not genuinely aligned with what you do it will only seem disingenuous. Sometimes small contributions make a big difference to people – and if they’re meaningful and heartfelt, they’ll matter to your customers. They’ll also show you have a heart, which is no small thing. If you really want to demonstrate your commitment to the people you’re here to help, ask your customers and your staff what you can do to make their lives better and get them involved in the decision-making process.

Do not back down

Once all of this is laid down, it’s down in stone. Your values are not to be abandoned at the first sight of perceived controversy and they’re not to be obfuscated if you’re talking to an audience you might think aren’t sympathetic. Barclays attracted criticism for changing their logo to rainbow colours for Pride, then attracted much more criticism for apologising if they’d offended anyone. If you’re acting from values you genuinely believe in, that are truly authentic to your business’ identity, you should have no reason to ever apologise for them. Stand up for them, celebrate them and do it loudly and proudly. The people who agree with you will love you for it. The people who don’t were never going to like you anyway.

Want some help turning your values into genuine action? Get in touch to chat about how a values activation strategy could help your business.